By Adewale Kupoluyi
The latest onslaught on Nigerians took place a few days ago with the killing of one Mr. Clement Ofoma in South Africa. The 35-year-old Ofoma was a native of Obosi, Idemili North Local Government Area of Anambra State. According to the wife of the victim, about ten South African policemen arrested him for allegedly dealing in drugs. “They searched our house, his store, and other places, but did not find any substance. In the process, they tortured him to confess where he kept the drugs, but my husband insisted he had nothing. The police used cellophane bag to cover his face and at a point, he was struggling to breathe and became unconscious. By the time they took him to a hospital, he was pronounced dead”, she had said.
Before Ofoma’s case, another Nigerian, Kingsley Ikeri, who hails from Mbaitolu Local Government Area of Imo State, was allegedly killed by the police during interrogation for allegedly being in possession of drugs. Similarly, one Uchena Eloh was said to have been strangled to death by South African policemen. The late Eloh was said to be walking out of his house when a police van stopped to search him on the suspicion that he was in possession of illegal substances. In the process, Eloh fell on the ground and was dragged by the police officers until he began foaming from the mouth and eventually died. Tochukwu Nnadi was equally confronted by the police on allegations of drug peddling. He was said to have neither resisted arrest nor struggled with his captors but was still choked to death. Other victims of reported onslaught against Nigerians include that of Monday Okorie, Gideon Ogalaonye, Adeniyi Olumoko and Christian Onwukaike, among others.
Each time I get to read about the plight of Nigerians in foreign lands, I feel greatly saddened, depressed and burn with anger. I am perturbed that my fellow country men and women suffer endlessly, and in most cases, they are simply marked-down for offences they really knew nothing about. It is regrettable that many Nigerians are routinely thrown into jail for offences they may not even have committed in the first place. It is instructive to note that the government has the constitutional obligation to protect its citizens whenever they have been accused of any illegality; whether they are innocent or guilty as charged; it is required that they are accorded their fundamental rights.
Regrettably, the government appeared not to have done much in protecting its citizens from such dangers in foreign lands. This posturing is both unacceptable and indefensible. These fellow citizens have all left the country with great hopes, having been frustrated by lack of jobs at home. For many, it had been a lifelong desire and nothing else mattered to them until they eventually made their way abroad. Not a few of them took loans, sold houses, cars, left lucrative jobs and even threw a lavish send-forth party before embarking on the search for the Golden Fleece. What do many of them get in return for the adventure? These Nigerians end up being worse-off than their counterparts that choose to remain at home. Reports of racist attacks against foreigners, inclusive of Nigerians in the United States of America, Europe and lately, South Africa, have continued unabated.
A few examples would suffice: years back, 125 Nigerians were humiliated and deported by the South African government, for allegedly carrying fake yellow fever vaccination certificates, just as the renowned playwright and Nobel Laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka, was once denied entry into that country on flimsy excuse. Much of South African’s hostilities against Nigerian have been attributed to Xenophobia. The severity of these hostilities led the Nigerian and South African governments jointly signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) in 2013 with a view to reinforcing diplomatic ties between both countries as well as discourage and prevent further attacks. Apart from South Africa, Nigerians have been found to have been executed in Saudi Arabia, Singapore and China over drug-related offences. Chinese police in particular have reportedly beaten Nigerian immigrants to death while over 500 Nigerians are said to be in Chinese prisons, mostly convicted of serious offences like robbery and dealing in hard drugs.
Similarly, a septuagenarian, Fausat Abosede was said to have come to Brazil, as a result of a promised medical help by a Nigerian but was later abandoned in the country. With help coming from no quarters, she decided to return home but was arrested at the Brazilian airport when hard drugs were found in a bag someone allegedly gave her to help deliver in Nigeria. A similar case was that of Lara Salami, who was said to own a shop in Lagos and had 10 children before getting lured to Brazil by a friend. She was arrested at Sao Paulo Airport when drugs stuffed in candles were discovered in her luggage. There was also one Amaka Isilabo, who allegedly went to Brazil after graduating from the university and joined the drug peddling business to raise money for her wedding.
Nigerians in Ukraine once protested against the arrest of a Nigerian student for allegedly defending himself against six teenagers, who attacked him at the entrance to his apartment. Olaolu Femi was allegedly remanded in custody by the Ukrainian police, who refused to take the case to court, claiming that they had not been able to get an interpreter for him after spending close to one year in jail without trial. Femi Oladipupo, an engineering graduate student in Philippines was said to have disappeared without a trace. His lifeless body was later found in another city a few kilometers from Manila. Godspower Okirie, who hailed from Rivers State was brutally murdered in Sampaloc, a neighborhood of Manila City, Philippines. His killer was described as street urchin and drug dealer; allegedly known to the local police but was never arrested and prosecuted; being a citizen. Another popular case was that of Stephen Lawrence, the Nigerian boy who was murdered by some white racist gang in the United Kingdom.
Maltreatment of Nigerians abroad stems from unnecessary persecutions, poor legal representation, false accusations, harassments and other forms of racial abuses. In many cases, these unfortunate citizens receive little assistance or protection from Nigerian embassies and high commissions. For instance, many Nigerians often wait in frustration for several months without succeeding in getting their passports renewed. During this period, they are forced to live like fugitives while some end up being arrested and deported. The main excuse by our embassies is that of shortage of machines that could produce the required passports.
Nigerians are known to be hard working, well educated, skillful and contributing positively to the well-being of other nations while others, out of their desperation, get themselves involved in smuggling hard drugs in countries, where the punishment is very severe. In Thailand for example, the existing legal system lacks the openness and rigours of due process. A light offence could land an offender in either long prison sentence or outright death sentence!
The way Nigerians are continually being treated abroad does not give the impression of any lasting solution in sight. This is at variance with what obtains in any serious nation worth dying for. Other countries like the United States of America, United Kingdom, Israel, France, Germany and Russian have on many occasions, displayed absolute care for the lives of their citizens at great cost. It is high time Nigeria changed its lack-luster diplomatic course and put a stop to the reactive strategies at the expense of proactive foreign policy.
As a way forward, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs should publish travel advisories with updated information. This becomes handy in the sense that some Nigerians do not really know what to expect in foreign countries. The detailed information contained in the publication would provide vital enlightenment and security tips. There is also the need for a comprehensive audit and review of the nation’s Foreign Service, to prepare it for the new age of competition, whereby true patriotism and professionalism define who fails and succeeds. The ministry should take up the case of every Nigerian illegally killed or harassed in South Africa and other nations in local courts for prosecution. The Nigeria Bar Association should urgently intervene in the regard by collaborating with government.
Furthermore, the Big Brother policy of Nigerian diplomacy should be critically reviewed because it seems not sustainable under the current dispensation, as the nation has not benefitted much from such, going by the South Africans experience despite the prominent role played by Nigeria in its liberation from apartheid. Currently, South Africa has many thriving investments in Nigeria that churn out hundreds of billions of naira in annual profits. Is this what Nigeria should get in return? Despite the harshness, provocation and acts of wickedness, Nigerians abroad should desist from taking laws into their hands through reprisal attack, as extrajudicial killing or jungle justice is not the right path to toe.
On a final note, there is the patriotic need for all to deeply reflect on the state of our nation and tame the monster that drives people away. The rate of unemployment is daily skyrocketing, insecurity abounds, the cost of living is intolerably expensive, corruption is the order of the day while basic social infrastructure continues to be out of the reach of the common man. Addressing these should be the top priority of government. For now, Nigerians living in the Diaspora, who have nothing tangible doing should to return home rather than remaining there and being killed mercilessly. Afterall, there is nothing like home!